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Volleyball standout Lauren Carlini

carlini1If there’s a high school volleyball-related accolade or award that Lauren Carlini hasn’t received during her brilliant four-year varsity career at West Aurora High School, then that accolade or award hasn’t yet been devised.

Carlini’s achievements are too long to list here, so we’ll give you a few of her top ones:

* AVCA Under Armour First Team all-American team member
* Four-time AAU all-American
* 2011 Junior Olympic volleyball team member.
* Illinois all-star team member
* Two-time Aurora Beacon-News Athlete of the Year (2011 and 2012)
* Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year (2012)

But in December, Carlini received what is the highest individual award given to a prep volleyball player. She is the 2012-13 recipient of the Gatorade National Volleyball Player of the Year award.

The announcement was made at West Aurora, and the award presented by April Ross, a silver medalist at the 2012 Summer Olympics.

“Without question, Lauren is deserving of recognition as the nation’s best high school volleyball player based on her statistics on the court and the impact her accomplishments have had on West Aurora’s success,” says Gatorade Vice President, Brand Marketing Morgan Flatley. “But she is also a shining example to peers and aspiring young athletes of what a leader and a student-athlete should be. She represents everything we hope for in a Gatorade Player of the Year recipient.”

And in September, Carlini nabbed an equally impressive honor: She was selected as the No. 1 senior recruit in the nation by PrepVolleyball.com’s panel of 100 NCAA Division I college coaches.

Carlini, a setter and right-side hitter, remembers calling her father, Tony, after looking online and learning she had received the citation.

“I really was not expecting it at all,” says Carlini, whose Mom, Gail, played volleyball in college at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. “I was so surprised and it was such an honor to be ranked that high. I saw it and I immediately called him. He was freaking out, yelling, ‘Nice job, Lauren. Oh my God.’ ”

She and her West Aurora teammates won a regional championship this past fall and advanced to sectional play. There, the Blackhawks fell to Benet Academy, which ended up winning the Class 4A state championship. Despite the loss, Carlini looks back at her tenure at West Aurora with pride.

“When I came in as a freshman, we had a losing record,” she says. “We’ve improved significantly. This year’s regional title was the first in over 20 years (at West Aurora). Just to look back and see the significant improvements we’ve made, I’m glad to leave the program in a better place.”

In December, Carlini capped her senior year by participating in the SportsTownChicago.com’s third annual High School Girls All-Star Volleyball Game. The match featured 30 of the state’s top high school players and was sponsored by the Illinois Center for Broadcasting. Proceeds from the event were donated to the American Cancer Society Making Strides Against Breast Cancer.

Carlini played for Team Pink, which won the grueling five-set match over over Team White. She collected 13 assists and 10 kills.

“Three years ago, there were all-star games for nearly every facet of sports, except girls volleyball, so we thought we’d fill the gap,” says Peter Ferreri, regional program director of SportsTownChicago.com and the host and creator of the all-star game. “The level of play keeps rising and the event itself was even more of an outstanding success from the year before.”

Carlini was named the game’s MVP.

“It was so much fun,” she says. “It’s an honor to be recognized with amazing players from Illinois. My team winning was just icing on the cake.”

Carlini will be playing at the University of Wisconsin next fall, but her next stop on the volleyball circuit will be with her club team, the Aurora-based Sports Performance Elite 18 squad. She and the team begin playing matches in January, and their season continues into June.

“It’s a long haul,” says Carlini, who’s been involved with Sports Performance for 11 years. “I’m really just trying to be almost perfect in my setting skills and fine-tuning all my other skills overall. I just have to be the best possible leader I can be because our goal is to win a national championship.”

Several things factored in to Carlini’s decision to sign with Wisconsin.

“It’s close to home and it’s an easy two-hour drive,” she says. “I like the girls there, and the recruits coming in are top-notch.”

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But exactly how, and where, Carlini fits into Wisconsin’s plans next season has yet to be determined. The head coach that recruited her, Pete Waite, resigned in November after 14 years. Thus, Carlini and her new teammates are waiting to see who’ll be named the new coach. She’s disappointed he resigned, but wants to contribute in any way possible once the new coaching staff is in place.

“I’m going to go in open-minded and see how the (new) coaches are and see how I like it, which I think I will,” she says. “The school’s great. With the new coach coming in, whoever that may be, I’ll just take it as it is however I can help the team, whether it’s setting or both setting and hitting.”

Carlini willingness to be open-minded served her well while playing for the Junior Olympic team in 2011. The team traveled to Turkey for matches. While there, she experienced a different culture, along with getting to know players from other countries.

“People may think Turkey is a hostile country,” she says, “but the people were amazing and the culture is so interesting to learn about. It changed my viewpoint on things and made me a more open-minded person. I was ignorant at the time and didn’t know what to expect. I really like it.”

With a last name like Carlini, Italian traditions run deep in the family. Lauren’s friends and family members refer to her by her last name, which happens to be her nickname.

“My Dad’s side is very Italian,” she says. “My Grandpa makes all these special Italian meals. We love it, especially during the holidays. My Dad does most of the cooking in the family. He really likes chicken parmesan and hot wings.”

Carlini says she would like to play volleyball professionally in Italy, if given the opportunity. Italy is a hotbed for women’s professional volleyball.

“That’s a dream and I hope to get a chance to do that one day,” she says.

About Mike Sandrolini

Mike Sandrolini has been published in the Elmhurst Independent, Voyager Media, the Daily Herald, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Bear Report. His stories and columns have been recognized for editorial excellence at regional, state and national newspaper contests over the years. He also has co-authored two books: "Bear With Me: A Family History of George Halas and the Chicago Bears" and "All the Good in Sports." His father, Raymond, is a native of Gaggio Montano, a small village around 30 miles southwest of Bologna.